Relief over late equalizer

A late equalizer against Ukraine in Kiev last Saturday, which effectively keeps Greece within striking distance of a World Cup berth, has, no doubt, helped boost the European Champion’s morale following a slow start in its campaign. A 2-1 away loss against Albania in its opening World Cup qualifier early last month, followed by a scoreless draw against Turkey several days later, was far from the optimal start Greece was hoping for following last summer’s astonishing Euro 2004 triumph in Portugal. With two points from two games, Greece lies three points behind Group 2’s leaders, Ukraine and Turkey. In its next encounter, against last-placed Kazakhstan in Athens, the national team will certainly push for maximum points to bolster its position in the group ahead of a theoretically tougher game, also at home, against Denmark early next year on February 9. «I believe that the draw in Ukraine was significant because it’s kept us within reach. The next two games at home will be crucial, especially the first one, as victory would take us to five points and we will confront Denmark with improved morale,» key defender Traianos Dellas said yesterday. He expressed relief over Greece’s late equalizer which deprived the Ukraine team of a more commanding position in Group 2. «As things turned out, we could’ve been talking about a catastrophe… the way we conceded the goal, the moment in the game when it happened, and Ukraine’s [strong] response,» said Dellas, who plays his club soccer with Roma. «But we deprived the Ukrainians of two points, as the Turks did to us,» the towering defender added. Highlighting the strong bond between national team members, attacking midfielder Vassilis Tsiartas, who swerved in an immaculately struck free kick nine minutes from time to hand Greece its 1-1 draw in Kiev, yesterday dedicated it to goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis. Earlier in the match, Nikopolidis, usually a rock-solid performer, mishandled the ball in slippery conditions for Ukraine’s sole goal. Midfielder Costas Katsouranis contended that Greece’s upcoming two consecutive games in Athens, at Karaiskaki Stadium, offered the national team a favorable run. «The schedule is more favorable now with two [successive] games at home. We will rebound dynamically,» midfielder Costas Katsouranis said yesterday. «The team has found better rhythm and play compared to the first two games. We will battle to qualify. It’s going to be tough fight. We’re not far behind the others.»